So I have a secret hobby. I like to go on YouTube and search for Israel and Tel Aviv travel videos. Why? Well, as someone who moved here from the US, I have a unique fascination with people’s impressions of Israel when they visit here for the first time. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that my friends and family back in the states who have never visited here will often ask me whether Israel is safe and sometimes throw in other odd questions.
The bottom line is that it’s clear that the impression people have of Israel is vastly different to the experienced day to day reality of the place. That brings me back to the travel videos I mentioned above. There are videos on YouTube from all kinds of people, everyone ranging from fashion vloggers to visitors coming here on Christian missions. These videos provide an inside look into the reaction people have when they visit Israel for the first time and it can be quite captivating to watch them process the dissonance between their expectations and reality.
Watching these videos has led me to explore a wide world of Israel focused videos on YouTube and other video platforms. There are videos covering almost every topic. For instance, anyone who cares about the political situation and the conflict should check out the Ask Project, a web series I’ve followed for some time. The idea is super simple, the creator of the project, Corey Gil-Shuster simply goes around Israel and the West Bank asking Israelis and Palestinians questions that he receives from around the world. It’s an authentic and direct way to find out what real people think about the situation here.
My new obsession, however, is with a new web series called ThisIsIsrael.Today. It’s hosted by a fascinating and quirky host – Mona Henoch. Each episode in the series visits a new location and introduces the audience to new people in Israel. This slice of life style is like tagging along on an exciting adventure across the country, and gives even a veteran-Oleh, like myself, an opportunity to discover parts of this country that I may have never found on my own.
For instance, in one episode Mona visited the Red South Flower Festival, which showcases the beautiful red Kalaniot that blossom in Israel’s south in the spring. This is something I’ve heard about for sometime, but somehow have never found the time to experience on my own.
The series is helped by the fact that each episode is all the more interesting because Mona herself has a fascinating and unique story. Mona, who was born and raised a Christian, converted to Judaism 25 years ago. She moved to Israel eight years ago, leaving behind a life most Israelis would envy in New York.
What is truly remarkable to me about Mona, is the way her experience as an Olah mirrors the experience of the people in those travel videos that I love. Mona came to Israel without expectations or a lifetime of education telling her that she had to love Israel. Mona discovered Israel and fell in love with it with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Based on my own experience with Hasbara, I can tell you that the hardest part about advocating for Israel is finding a way to convince people that you are trustworthy and that you have an unbiased perspective. For so many of us, it’s nearly impossible to find that honest voice. However, with Mona and her videos, her unique personal story is both powerful and persuasive evidence of her authenticity. I think that authentic voice is one that anyone who cares about Israel should take some time to listen to.